RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN: Unidentified Man #1: LeBron James at the buzzer.
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GOLDMAN: Jason Herron is a Cavs' season ticket Holder.
JASON HERRON: It was a first time, I think, you know, that I can think of in sports history, where a homegrown kid, you know, didn't go away to college. He went right from Akron to Cleveland to play professionally. We watched him develop into this man.
GOLDMAN: A man who became the best chance to bring longsuffering fans in the city a first pro championship since 1964. His departure to Miami prompted the kind of anger that gives tonight its edge - concerns about violence, heavy security in and around the arena - because for many Clevelanders, LeBron James leaving town as a free agent and now returning isn't business. It's personal.
HERRON: It's like a breakup, seeing an ex-girlfriend, I guess. There's going to be anger. There's going to be bitterness. But, I mean, it's going to be every specter of emotions possible. You know, I don't know what to expect.
BOWMAN: Jason Herron got his moment in the spotlight, infamously, last July. That's when he organized the torching of LeBron James' jerseys. It was a small protest that - many here lament - came to symbolize an entire city's reaction. It wouldn't have happened, Herron says, if James had broken up with Cleveland the right way.
HERRON: Take a full page out in the Plain Dealer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, thank the fans. Thank the organization and say this is something I have to do. I'm going to go play with my friends in South Beach. I loved it in Cleveland. You know, it was the best seven years of my life. Sincerely, LeBron James.
BOWMAN: Instead, there was the prime time special, "The Decision," in which James told Cleveland and the world...
LEBRON JAMES: And this fall, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.
BOWMAN: "The Decision" backfired. James was criticized nationwide. He fired back in a Nike commercial...
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JAMES: What should I do? Should I admit that I've made mistakes...
GOLDMAN: ...which prompted a spoof commercial by a Cleveland filmmaker, who spliced in Clevelanders answering James' question.
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JAMES: Unidentified Woman: We wanted you to be who you said you'd be.
JAMES: I got a goal, and that's a huge goal, and that's to bring an NBA championship here to Cleveland. And I won't stop till I get it.
GOLDMAN: Take this year's Cavs. Sure, they're seven-and-10, but, says local advertising exec Dick Clough...
DICK CLOUGH: They're much more of a team now than they were when LeBron was here. I think people waited around for him to score and do things and so forth.
GOLDMAN: It's enough to make even a big, strong NBA superstar crave some unconditional love from, say, a grandma. And they are here for James - actually, 30 or so miles south in Akron - his home growing up and headquarters, if that's what you want to call it, for the LeBron James Grandmothers Fan Club.
ALDER CHAPMAN: Our motto is love and fun. We love him. We love each other. And we have fun when he's playing. I mean, he just lifts us up.
GOLDMAN: Last night, 71-year-old Alder Chapman and seven other club members in club T-shirts got together to watch Miami play Detroit. Chapman started the club in 2006. She hears the talk now about James being disloyal for leaving, and she doesn't buy it.
CHAPMAN: He was a free agent. He had a right to choose wherever. And he gave them seven years.
GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
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